Smart Apps and Travel Tips for Italy in the Fall
Last fall we traveled to Italy to see new places and revisit two of our favorites. We picked October, a great time to visit, with mild temperatures and fewer crowds. During our three weeks we stayed in Milan, Genoa, Bonassola, Lucca, Siena and Rome, a nice combination of sightseeing, relaxing and visiting old friends and haunts. We share our favorite apps and travel tips from the overall trip, as well as more details on each individual city, to help you plan your own visit.
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Choosing our flights
Since we love visiting Tuscany, we have always flown into Florence. Florence has a small but decent airport, with connections to many different cities in Europe, but it can be expensive and limiting.
This time we flew to Milan, the major business center of Italy in the North. Milan gave us a lot of choices for flights and from there, it was easy to connect south via train or bus. On our way home, we flew from Rome, which also had plenty of options and allowed us to stay on the same airline.
Our local airport (Sacramento/SMF) is not the best place for international flights, so instead of taking a commuter flight to connect we always search for flights from the Bay Area, about a two to three hour drive, depending on traffic. There we have three major airports to choose from – SFO, OAK and SJC – with a lot more airlines and competition. We look for minimal layovers, or better yet a nonstop flight to minimize the chance for a missed connection and lost luggage. We also avoid traveling east through Chicago, New York or Boston as weather can sometimes be an issue.
If you are within driving distance of a larger airport, we recommend you consider this as well. Make sure you check out the low fare European carriers like Norwegian and Icelandic Air – they have some great low fares to Europe from many destinations.
To save time and money, we do a one-way rental from our local car rental agency and drop the car at the airport, and do the same on our way back. Even if your rental car company charges you a drop fee, it is probably cheaper than parking your own car for a long trip. If you do this, we recommend renting in-town to avoid the extra charges rental car companies charge at the airport.
Traveling within Italy
Flying into Milan gave us lots of flexibility to get to our second destination, Cinque Terre. We love to travel via train and we were able to find many options, including the high speed Frecciarossa. We did our research on and booked from the US directly via the Trenitalia site. Before we left for Italy, we downloaded the Trenitalia app on our phones to let us buy tickets and review schedules while we were on the go.
Since we planned on staying in Rome for a week at the end of our trip, we booked our outgoing flight from there. To get to Rome from Siena, we chose to travel by bus. Our journey was smooth and easy, and we didn’t have to worry about changing trains or missing our stop.
Activities and Excursions
We are comfortable traveling in Italy and have been to Siena and Rome multiple times. But no matter how much you think you know it is good to have a guidebook handy. This time we bought the Italy travel guide from Lonely Planet.
We were able to get the entire guide as both a PDF and an ebook to download on our devices, so we didn’t have to carry it and could easily search on our tablets or phones for the specific places we wanted to visit. There is so much information available these days but having a guidebook is always a reliable way to get trusted information about the place you are visiting, and having it on our phones helped us make choices in real time when we were in an unfamiliar town. If you decide to do this, make sure you buy and download the guides before you leave, or download them on WiFi at your destination. If you try to download one from your cell phone while you are traveling those international roaming fees could add up fast.
This time we also took advantage of Viator to book some activities we didn’t want to miss. Viator also came in handy when we found ourselves in horrible weather in Rome and wanted to do something inside last minute. Viator makes searching and paying for trips easy, with easy access to reviews from other guests and Trip Advisor so we could make informed choices.
Other tips for your trip to Italy:
- If you buy your train ticket at a kiosk, make sure you validate it on the platform before you board the train to avoid a penalty. If you use the Trenitalia app to buy, your ticket is already validated.
- Check with your mobile carrier to find out what plans are available for international roaming, especially for using mobile data. You would be surprised how much checking Facebook and Instagram can cost. If you don’t want to pay, leave your phone in airplane mode and turn on your WiFi when you get to your hotel or a free hotspot.
- If you are going to be in Italy for a week or more, make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave, and buy a prepaid SIM card from an Italian carrier when you arrive. There are mobile phone shops in nearly every town: TIM, WIND and Vodafone. Make sure you ask about special deals for visitors – for instance, we got discounted calls to the US, unlimited calls in Italy, and a generous data plan.
- It can be tempting to try to see many places in a short time, especially if it is your first time. But Italy is to be savored, and we recommend you stay at least two nights in any location, if not three or more, so you don’t spend all your time re-packing and traveling.
- For an extended stay in any town in Italy, we prefer to have a villa or a small apartment with a kitchen. Shopping, cooking and relaxing in your own place is much more enjoyable and for us, something that we really love about the country. Imagine picking out your own food, cooking together and enjoying a nice bottle of local wine.
- Consider starting your visit with a guided walk or better yet, a food tour. You can find lots of options from a site like Viator, or ask your hotel. This will help you get your bearings quickly and you will eat a lot better if you learn what’s local and in season.